Synthetic Aperture Radar: Hazards

The first MOOC about Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) remote sensing for disaster monitoring. Learn about weather and illumination-independent SAR remote sensing technology, and explore its applications to natural hazards including earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, and flooding.

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After a course session ends, it will be archived.
Estimated 6 weeks
4–6 hours per week
Self-paced
Progress at your own speed

About this course

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Remote sensing observations from airborne and spaceborne platforms have become an essential tool in disaster management. They provide an immediate and large-area overview of evolving disaster situations, revealing important hazard information to disaster response personnel.

This course will introduce you to Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR), a remote sensing technology that can see the ground even during darkness and through rain, clouds, or smoke. As a participant in this course, you will gain an intuitive understanding of the information contained in SAR observations and learn to use a range of analysis techniques to apply SAR data to disaster mapping and management. Specific topics will include:

  • The mathematical and physical principles of SAR remote sensing
  • How to access and visualize SAR data
  • Interpretation of SAR images in the context of disaster monitoring
  • Interferometric SAR (InSAR) concepts
  • Flood mapping and SAR change detection for hazard analysis
  • InSAR-based analysis of volcanoes and landslides

The learned concepts will be put into action in simulated disaster response exercises, in which class participants will analyze SAR data sets to create hazard information for several real-life disaster events from the recent past.

Learners registered for the verified track will additionally get the opportunity for hands-on lab exercises using Jupyter Notebooks. The verified track will also include peer discussions and a verified certificate upon successful completion.

At a glance

  • Language: English

What you'll learn

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Participants in this course will develop the following skills:

  • Intuitive understanding of SAR image and phase information
  • Understanding the properties of different SAR sensor types
  • Ability to pick the optimal sensor for your application
  • Creation of RGB color visualizations from images acquired at different times or in different polarizations
  • Use of SAR images to map hazards such as flooding and deforestation
  • Use of interferometric SAR techniques to measure cm-scale surface deformation related to volcanic activity and landslides

Week 1: Course Introduction and Basic Capabilities of SAR

Week 1 will introduce you to the main content and structure of this course. You will also learn about the lab environment that will be available for learners on the “verified track”. The following items will be addressed:

  • Introduction to the concept and upcoming lectures and exercises related to this course

  • Presentation of the course syllabus

  • Presentation of SAR data examples to familiarize students with the appearance and properties of SAR data

Week 2: Introduction to Synthetic Aperture Radar Remote Sensing

Week 2 will introduce the main concepts of Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR imaging along with the properties and information content of SAR data. Specific discussion topics will include:

  • Introduction to the main mathematical and physical concepts of radar remote sensing

  • Discussion of the main concepts of Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) imaging

  • Geometric and radiometric properties of SAR

  • Explore SAR signatures of various natural environments such as forests, agriculture, and urban environments.

  • Verified Track: Lab exercise on exploring SAR time series for flooding events

Week 3: Introduction to Interferometric SAR

Week 3 will introduce the concepts and applications of Interferometric SAR (InSAR) processing. InSAR uses the phase signal captured in SAR data to track subtle surface movements such as those related to seismic events and volcanic activity. Specifically, Week 3 will address the following items:

  • Concepts of Interferometric SAR processing and its applications to disaster monitoring

  • InSAR for Topographic Mapping

  • InSAR for Deformation Monitoring

  • Limitations of Traditional "Single-pair" InSAR Techniques

  • Verified Track: Lab exercise analyzing and interpreting InSAR products

Week 4: InSAR Time Series Analysis Techniques

InSAR time series analysis techniques enable the tracking of cm-scale surface displacements over long times. These techniques are relevant for a number of hazard applications such as landslide and volcano monitoring. In Week 4 we will address:

  • The Concept of InSAR Time Series Analysis

  • Point Target-Based InSAR Time Series Analysis

  • Distributed Scatterer InSAR Time Series Analysis

  • Verified Track: Lab exercise exploring PSI time series data over Norway

Week 5: Disaster Monitoring using SAR Image Data

SAR sensors are highly stable imaging systems that are ideal for the identification of changes on the earth surface. Week 5 will introduce participants to a range of techniques to monitor events and identify changes from muti-temporal SAR images.

  • Surface water signatures in SAR

  • A Threshold-based surface water mapping method

  • Verified Track: Hands-on flood mapping using Jupyter Notebooks

  • SAR change detection techniques

  • Verified Track: Lab exercise on time series change detection to map deforestation

Week 6: Disaster Monitoring using InSAR Techniques

In this part of the course, we will apply the information learned in Week 4 to monitor surface displacements at volcanoes and in landslide-prone areas. Specifically, Week 6 will address the following items:

  • Review of InSAR workflow for a geophysical application

  • Estimating volcano source model parameters from InSAR

  • Verified Track: Lab exercise estimating Mogi source parameters for Okmok volcano, Alaska

  • Landslides monitoring using SBAS InSAR

Verified Track: Lab exercise mapping landslide motion in California using InSAR time series data

Learner testimonials

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"It was a great course! I recommend it for both beginners and familiarized professionals with radar remote sensing."

– Gilberto Daniel Hermosillo Camacho, Specialist in Geotechnologies, Mexico

"Great hands-on activities and explanations! A great refresher course for those familiar with SAR, and helps with knowledge enhancement! Yet it's an approachable course even for beginners in SAR too."

– Sidharth Subramaniam, GIS Associate, Kawa Space, India

Glad to complete this SAR course offered via edX. It helps me to better interface with our satellite team when monitoring construction induced ground/building deformation, as well as broaden my horizons about SAR applications outside my expertise.

– Zhangwei Ning, PhD, Technical Manager at SIXENSE Inc

About the instructors

Who can take this course?

Unfortunately, learners from one or more of the following countries or regions will not be able to register for this course: Iran, Cuba and the Crimea region of Ukraine. While edX has sought licenses from the U.S. Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) to offer our courses to learners in these countries and regions, the licenses we have received are not broad enough to allow us to offer this course in all locations. edX truly regrets that U.S. sanctions prevent us from offering all of our courses to everyone, no matter where they live.